photo by John Ranard The Prisoners

The year 2000 marked an event unnoticed by many observers of contemporary Russian history. One hundred seventy six thousand men, women and children, incarcerated in Russian jails and prison colonies were released under a widespread amnesty and early parole program. In doing so, Russia passed to the United States the torch bearing the distinction as the country with the largest ratio of prisoners to the general public.

The Russian prison system is in a state of crisis. It is overcrowded, understaffed and severely under-financed. Yet an alliance with humanitarian organizations made from within the system itself, between members of the Russian Ministry of Justice and social activists who served as political prisoners in the gulag, has forged a prison reform program that may help stabilize the problem.

These are portraits of the incarcerated taken during the summer of 1998, 2000 and 2001.

photo by John Ranardphoto by John Ranard